Waaah! London's bring-a-baby concerts

Reuben Lennie enjoys his first concert Reuben Lennie enjoys his first concert
Posted: Wed Dec 8 2010

It's never too early to instil a love of classical, says Time Out, as Classical editor Jonathan Lennie takes his new son to a series of concerts aimed at parents and kids.

Something weird is happening. I am in the stalls of Wigmore Hall enjoying the aeolian strains of a wind trio, while my companion is chewing his hand and dribbling on my trousers; meanwhile, the person in front is standing backwards in their seat and staring at me intently. And if that wasn't disconcerting enough, a chorus of wailing is gathering momentum across the room. And never mind the clapping between movements, here there is constant movement, including one audience member who is enjoying an impromptu promenade, standing at the side of the stage eating a biscuit.

The reason for this unusual behaviour might be explained by the fact that half the audience is under one year old. We are at the sporadic 'For Crying Out Loud' concert series - my son, Reuben, making his first foray into the concert hall. Well, he is five months old and I didn't want to leave it too long.

The series, run by Wigmore Hall, is part of its education programme. And what a great idea! For while there are regular family concerts and activity workshops for infants across the city, there are few opportunities for parents with babies to attend live classical music events. And this is definitely one for the parents - today there are about 100 of them, mostly mums, some accompanied by dads, and a handful of grandparents.

Now I understand why, on entering the building with half an hour to kick-off, the ushers looked so nervous. For 15 minutes later the onslaught began, as mothers stormed the foyer with their offspring in prams and slings, and bags bulging with baby accoutrement.

The musicians today are the Fortuna Trio, whose combination of flute, clarinet and bassoon is clearly conducive to small ears as there is a collective hush as they open with a Mozart divertimento. However, despite the wonderful sounds being created on stage, Reuben doesn't seem to notice, being far more interested in examining his feet, which have only recently come into his purview. But such distractions are welcome and he remains quiet until halfway through an arrangement of Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring', when a junior critic on stage right registers his displeasure (some people don't like Bach being messed about with); his cries are met by another on the other side, creating a Doppler effect, which sets the rest of the room off, including Reuben.

The trio, however, seem unconcerned with the increasing mayhem and play on. Of course, the noise doesn't matter - the enjoyable outcome is that rather than provoking indignant glances, the outrageous interruptions induce a ripple of laughter among parents.

And they all seemed to enjoy it. First-timer Shelley Merrick is typical. She has met up with five other new mums (her regular friends whom she met on an NCT - National Childbirth Trust ante-natal - course). 'I really enjoyed that,' she exclaims, her five-month-old baby Emily's beaming smile reflecting mutual appreciation.

Reuben, meanwhile, is limbering up for his big moment, and with the 45-minute concert having finished with a suite by Jacques Ibert, and most parents and babies having repaired to the reception room below for tea and cake, it is time for him to shine for the camera and begin the showbiz career I have planned for him. Sadly, it has all been too much and he has fallen asleep - though I'm sure he is not the first person to nod off during a bit of Ibert.

Two days later and Reuben is back on the morning concert trail. This time we are at LSO St Luke's on Old Street. A convoy of prams are wheeled in by bleary-eyed parents to engorge the generous space of the former church. This is the LSO's Discovery concert for families, part of a programme that recently celebrated 20 years.

This is fun - the exuberant facilitator Vanessa King bounds on to take us on a bear hunt, assisted by five casually dressed LSO musicians, who introduce their instruments, then play along with the story.
With the age range reaching five years, the children are more involved and join in. It all ends with Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm', which has everyone on their feet jiving in an ecstatic moment of abandon. Even Reuben stops dribbling, give a smile then returns back to the all-important business of chewing his hand and observing his feet. At least this time he is still awake.

www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/learning; www.lso.co.uk/aboutdiscovery.